Friday, 18 May 2018

Quod erat pudendum

Prove is a tricky word; "to try, test; evaluate; demonstrate," says Etymonline
with the line  between test and show falling about halfway down that list. The idea of trying is (it seems to me – I can't think of a way to show this) waning in English; in Spanish, on the other hand, the trying end of the "meaning pool" is quite deep: a stall-holder in a food market in Barcelona will invite passers-by to probar their produce, whereas the equivalent stall-holder at a Farmer's Market in Swindon would say "Try some"; calling "Prove it" wouldn't help sales.

It was not always this way .  When a printer wanted to test how accurate his typesetter had been, he produced a proof copy – whence comes the use of proof as a verb meaning "read and correct a proof copy" (which is not to deny that proof was already a verb; Etymonline puts it at 1834).

Which brings us to "the proof of the pudding is in the eating", mangled by people who didn't understand this meaning of proof.  There are various juxtapositions of words beginning with p. Something is (?) "the proof in the pudding"...
<example source="Boston Globe, 2003, quoted in Quinion piece, vide infra">
"While the team’s first Super Bowl victory back in 2002 could be explained away by some skeptics as a fluke, the second victory is the proof in the pudding in cementing the Pats’ status as the cream of the NFL crop."
...but far and away the winner is "the proof is in the pudding". Google shows the size of the victory – about 6 times more for the meaningless newcomer.

Full form: 159,000 results
Demonstrative charcuterie:  1,080,000  results

In a 2012 edition of Morning Edition, Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer anointed the meaningless interloper thus:
Well, the proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb.
Hmm...."New twist", sounds pretty catchy. He goes on to fill in the back story:
The original version is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food in order to know whether it was good....Back then, pudding referred to a kind of sausage, filling the intestines of some animal with minced meat and other things - something you probably want to try out carefully since that kind of food could be rather treacherous.
OK. That's the way language works: a sort of linguistic Gresham's Law:

Bad language drives out good

But I know what I know; my prescriptivist in descriptivist's clothing credentials are unchanged. My lip will always curl when I hear about the proof being in the pudding. And I agree with Michael Quinion's
The proverb is ancient — it has been traced back to 1300 in a rather different form and is recorded by William Camden in his Remains Concerning Britain of 1623. It’s sad that it has lasted so long, only to be corrupted in modern times.

More here
But that corruption is terminal. "Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour. England hath need of thee..." Well, best not to make a fuss.  :-)


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